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Sent out to Serve: North Carolina Women Missionaries, 1872-1994

Sixteen Protestant women represented in Joyner Library’s extensive missionary collections went from North Carolina into various parts of the world to serve as teachers, doctors, nurses, school administrators, evangelists, mission society organizers, and relief workers in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. In addition, two African American women from North Carolina, not represented in our collections, served as teachers of freedmen and -women in North Carolina and Virginia in the aftermath of the Civil War.

Southern Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Episcopalians, they brought denominational and regional sensibilities to bear as they observed the local cultures, sought to change traditional practices such as foot-binding and idol worship, and presented the Bible and the Christian faith to the people they encountered.

The single women often made careers of missionary service, some devoting 20 to 30 years to the work, and the married women sometimes spent much of their married life abroad, raising their children there. When World War II or local civil war made these women refugees or political prisoners, they found creative ways to continue missionary work at these times and usually returned to the field after their release. One woman interned by the Japanese in China later went to Japan as a missionary.

The “Sent out to Serve: North Carolina Women Missionaries, 1872-1994” exhibit, which is featured on the fourth floor of Joyner Library from March through December 2015, begins to tell the story of 12 of these women. To learn more about all of those represented in Joyner’s manuscript holdings, explore this digital collection or request the original materials in the North Carolina Reading Room on Joyner Library’s third floor.

By Dr. Laureen Tedesco, Department of English, East Carolina University